Hippocrates: our food is our medicine

Carbs are quickly converted into sugar once in our digestive tract, you may just as well eat 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar

Every year thousands of community family physicians, university-based researchers, teachers and doctors completing their training gather to exchange new insights in how to best deliver health care based on hard scientific evidence and, at the same time, make a concerted effort to debunk the myriad myths and promises floating around the internet to achieve or maintain eternal youth in perfect health.

Most of the latter fall under the heading: “If not completely satisfied, guaranteed to get your money back”.

Question:  Has anyone actually got their money back?

My last Google search revealed more than two million websites on how to achieve wellness.

If even a fraction of all this was true, hospitals would be empty and doctors on the dole. Still, thousands ignore the sage advice: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s not true.

Last week, 4,000 of the best and brightest family physicians gathered in Toronto.

Most of the events stayed under the radar, because scientific progress is inherently slow. And unless someone can announce a major breakthrough, as I see every so often on the evening news to get people excited, most of the progress is slow and steady. Come to think of it, of all the major breakthroughs in the past few years, I have not yet seen a single one materialize. Most of it is pure self-promotion to attract funding, and the final results are years down the road, even if everything falls into place.

Our keynote speaker was the immediate past Governor General, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, who had a message we all should heed, not just the family physicians, even though she urged us to be instrumental in improving the health of Canadians by paying much more attention to what makes us sick, rather than find cures.

Childhood obesity is a phenomenon that has reared its ugly head in the past 30 to 40 years and threatens to derail the health care system’s ability to cope with an unmanageable burden of illness.

When I was in grade school, I never saw a fat child. Even in high school it was  unusual to see a fat fellow student.

Now at least half of the student population is overweight, obese even.

What has happened? Have our genes changed in this short time span?

Other than the most gullible will agree that this is not the case. In short, the root cause is the way we eat.

We are ignoring what Hippocrates told us some 2,000 years ago, that our food is our medicine. Thanks to misinformation, the food industry and a general tendency to treat symptoms, rather than treating the underlying causes of the obesity epidemic – our food is now our poison.

It was difficult for me to get my head around how we actually make our children fat with what is generally considered a healthy breakfast of fancy cereal and organic juice and send them off to school feeling good about what we fed them.

If we analyze what we actually fed our children, it amounts to between 60-70 grams of carbohydrates, some may be a bit healthier than others. Still, all these carbs are quickly converted into sugar once in our digestive tract. You may just as well eat  15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar.

That sugar load  triggers our body to produce a sea of insulin to lower the blood sugar by putting it  into storage and converting it into fat. It is the virtual absence of protein that messes up the built-in metabolic safeguards against turning sugar into fat.

The other meals and snacks during the day are generally loaded with carbs and fat, and little protein, and we merrily keep storing more and more fat, because the body does not know what else to do.

The key is the imbalance between carbs and protein.

Most of the processed food contains little or no protein.

The less affluent the family, the more pizza, macaroni and cheese and other relatively low-cost processed foods people eat and the results are obvious.

I will try and explain in a bit more detail next time how this already starts before we are born, thanks to the erroneous advice we give pregnant women what to eat.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.